Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pulling Yourselves Up by Your Bootstraps When You Don't Have Any Boots.

Individualism - where everyone is expected to look after him or herself and his or her immediate family, and where it is believed that anyone, regardless of their status can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and raise themselves from poverty - is quintessentially American. It is what defines our culture, above all else, yet more than ever, Americans are falling victim to this "everyone for himself" belief system, generated by those (power elite), who most benefit from we the people's ignorance of this ideology's mythological proportions.

We rank highest in the world, on the individualism (IDV) index, which is part of the five dimensions of culture, created by Geert Hofstede, who conducted the most comprehensive study of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture, and after analyzing a large data base of employee values scores collected by IBM between 1967 and 1973 that covered more than 70 countries.

Placing so much significance on this one aforementioned dimension can be very destructive when government policy, not only fails to provide the level playing field required to make it work, but, in addition, sets up barriers that make it impossible, for all, but those with the luck of a jackpot lottery winner, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, despite the lack of boots. Of course, then, those lucky individuals will serve as the token success stories that sustain the "bootstrap" mentality.

As more and more of our professional class find themselves facing situations - lack of health insurance, unemployment, foreclosure etc. - previously thought as something that only happens to slackers, the better the chances are that this "bootstrap" myth will be put to rest.

Fortunately, culture is not a fixed entity, rather, it is, or should be, dynamic and fluid, however this requires that we the people take off our blinders and refuse to live in denial or remain in a state of complacency, and instead develop a culture of cooperation, fairness and respect for the individual, regardless of that person's social status.

Hofstede's five dimensions of culture:

Power Distance Index (PDI) is how individuals interact with people with authority or status over them. It focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country's society. A High Power Distance ranking indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. These societies are more likely to follow a caste system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. A Low Power Distance ranking indicates the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen's power and wealth. In these societies equality and opportunity for everyone is stressed.

Individualism (IDV) focuses on the degree that society reinforces individual or collective, achievement and interpersonal relationships. A High Individualism ranking indicates that individuality and individual rights are paramount within the society. Individuals in these societies may tend to form a larger number of looser relationships. A Low Individualism ranking typifies societies of a more collectivist nature with close ties between individuals. These cultures reinforce extended families and collectives where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

There are only seven (7) countries in the Geert Hofstede research that have Individualism (IDV) as their highest Dimension: USA (91), Australia (90), United Kingdom (89), Netherlands and Canada (80), and Italy (76).

Masculinity (MAS) focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power. Do values of assertiveness and competition dominate? A High Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation. In these cultures, males dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure, with females being controlled by male domination. A Low Masculinity ranking indicates the country has a low level of differentiation and discrimination between genders. In these cultures, females are treated equally to males in all aspects of the society.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within the society - i.e. unstructured situations. A High Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. This creates a rule-oriented society that institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty. A Low Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has less concern about ambiguity and uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions. This is reflected in a society that is less rule-oriented, more readily accepts change, and takes more and greater risks. Are unknown situations threatening or acceptable?

Strong: South Korea, Japan, and Latin America
Weak: US, the Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain

Geert Hofstede added the following fifth (5th) dimension after conducting an additional international study using a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers. That survey resulted in addition of the Confucian dynamism. Subsequently, Hofstede described that dimension as a culture's long-term Orientation.

Long Term Orientation Long-Term Orientation (LTO) focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace, long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values.

Long term cultures:

Supports a strong work ethic where long-term rewards are expected as a result of today's hard work.
High respect for tradition and family honor.
Avoiding shame and "Saving Face" is desirable.
Knowing true way of doing things important.

China; Hong Kong; Taiwan, Japan and India.

Short-term cultures:
Change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do not become impediments to change.
Focus on one's own reputation and security and pursuit of personal happiness.
Avoiding guilt is motivating.
Gaining status and wealth desirable.
Tolerance and diverse opinions are acceptable.

Britain, Canada, the Philippines; Germany, Australia.

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